Friday, September 12, 2014

Superior Sawtooth 100 - 2014

It's an innocuous enough title, Superior Sawtooth 100, betraying nothing about the event other than its length, and it doesn't even do that properly (it's really 103.3 miles).  Some enlightenment is needed.  The real name of the race is The Superior 100-mile Trail Race and is run entirely on the rugged Superior Hiking Trail.  It has roughly 21,000 feet of climbing, but no individual climbs larger than a few hundred feet, instead substituting hundreds of smaller climbs throughout the entire course.  Those many small climbs give the race a saw-like profile.  It cuts like one too.

I've run this race three times before, in 2010, 2011, and 2012 where I earned a 3rd and two 2nd places.  I skipped last year to run Wasatch, but was back with a mission this year.  It was hard watching the sign up list with two time winner John Horns coming back along with rookie speedster Mike Borst, young enough to be my son, a Badwater 2nd place finisher, and the UROC winner.  I felt good coming into this 2014 edition, having moved to Duluth, MN where I could train on the SHT as well as having a banner year of running.  I'd PR'd in the marathon, 50-mile, 100K, and 100-mile over the last 12 months.  I was well rested, having not raced since Western States at the end of June and had mostly uninterrupted training.  I wasn't going to be any more ready.

On with it...



I headed up the shore Thursday night with my pal Jeff, who was coming up for his second attempt at the 100-mile.  Meeting up at my house after work, we quickly loaded up his car then headed up, stopping for dinner at The Vanilla Bean in Two Harbors.  I didn't want pasta, and preferred low key, so went with a nice salad with chicken breast, good and light.  From there it was a short hop to packet pickup and the pre-race meeting.  I was getting really focused and into my head, so though I had a lot of friends hanging out, I really didn't want to stay too long, anxious to get our camp setup.  We wandered a bit, saying hi to a few folks, got our bags, then sneaked out the back midway through the meeting (sorry John).

Overall it was a very relaxing, pleasant evening.  Dave, Jeff's crew, was there and we had a campfire, then turned in by 10 PM.  Surprisingly, I slept all night, a good omen.

Up at 5:30 I worked on taping my toes along with eating a breakfast of a couple bananas and boiled eggs.  Easy on the stomach.  It was a nice, cool morning, and a little overcast.  Really, pretty perfect for running.  Around 7:00 we headed up to the start where I met up with my day-crew of mom (Vicky), dad (Dennis), and rookie crew brother-in-law Dan.  They took my gear and we walked up to the start.  I talked to a lot of people on the way to check-in, and by the time I got there Cheri was, like, yeah, we have you already.  Grabbing a fresh cup of decaf from the Governor, I spent the rest of the time bouncing around between my crew and various friends.  Soon enough, though, it was time.

Finding my groove


I ditched my coat with the crew, then John Horns and I wormed our way up to the front line.  We'd run numerous times together and both run for TCRC.  I felt none of the usual jitters just before a start, instead feeling serious and businesslike about what was coming.  Storkamp gave a quick reminder about how to follow the trail, then it was 3-2-1, and we ran.  John, Mike, and 3 others moved up fairly quickly while I stayed in a short train with Joe Boler and 'Nick'.  Joe and I chatted away, moving comfortably for several miles before I decided Nick wasn't running down hills like I wanted to and I moved past him and onto my own.  The first two sections, to Split Rock then Beaver Bay, are long, and account for about the first 20 miles of the course.

Going down into Split Rock (1:36), I was surprised to see Horns in the lead followed by four other guys.  I had thought that they were all much farther out ahead.  In fact I had hoped they were out there beating each-other up.  Coming right back out, though, I moved into 5th, passing a guy who seemed to be breathing awful hard for the slow pace we were running.  It was mostly uneventful running, in wonderful weather on the way to Beaver Bay.  I managed to also pick up Eric Clifton in here, who was running without water nor gels, a strategy I can't really endorse.  Otherwise, I tried to keep it slow and steady only to have my stride broken up by a full on face plant in a large mud wallow.  It was a pretty soft landing, but I had mud from head to toe now.  Alas, there were no streams to rinse off in.

By the time I hit Beaver Bay (3:22) and the first crew point, the mud had mostly flaked off.  I hit these aid stations looking serious, always trying to find my crew, which I did, and 30 seconds later was back out on the trail  Beaver Bay is pretty awesome, since all the crews are there, and there is tons of cheering.  The bounce to Silver Bay is fast, and I ran with Horns a bit here, and moved past him, coming into the AS just ahead of him, now in third (4:18).

I don't much like the run to Tettegouche.  Nothing against the trail, but this is a warmer part of the day, and the slope of the hills the trail is on catches a lot of sun, so that amplifies it, too.  I'd say it's a longer section, but let's be real, they all feel like longer sections.  I didn't see anyone this section, nor would I until just before Finland.  I'd essentially be running alone for the next 12 hours.  Up, down, left, right, repeat.  On the way I passed a woman backpacking with her dog, which was unleashed and repeatedly jumped on me, which she made no move to correct.  So I'll say it: Mother Fucker!  Some people are ignorant, inconsiderate asses.  Fortunately, when I popped out of the trail right into Tettegouche (6:12), I got some aid station love.  Swapping gear again, I also grabbed some pizza, while pal Ethan gave me a quick shoulder rub.

Not five minutes out of there, I tripped on, I don't know, a worm or something, on otherwise unblemished trail and wound up somersaulting onto the gravel shouting and gasping for breath.  Getting up, I, um did some business in the woods and settled down.  I'd cut my shoulder, knee, and really tore my hand up, which was bleeding quite impressively.  I reminded myself the race doesn't start until at least 50 miles.  Cool your jets and just run easy.  So with my tunes back on, I managed to stay on my feet on the way to County Road 6.  This is a pretty slow chunk of trail, having a fair bit of steep climbing and also being fairly warm out still.  I know it well, though, and know that even when you see the aid station below you, there's still a mile to go.  It is beautiful though, especially running across Sawmill Creek Dome, and the large vistas below it.  Get there I did, though (8:10).

My dad gave me some Aleve to carry with, I grabbed a coke, new gels and headed up to Section 13.  I like this chunk of trail, which is reasonably runnable, minus a short chunk of gnarliness in the middle.  Up until now, I'd say, I wasn't having a lot of fun.  It felt like business, and more work than it should be, at least mentally.  My body was doing well, but I wasn't all fired up to be out there, and hadn't been since the start.  That changed as I approached the spur to the AS and spotted the red shirt of Kyle.  He was done, mentally checked out.  I ran a few steps with him, and he'd already decided to drop.  Passing him, and moving into 2nd changed my day.  Now I was hunting.

Hot pursuit


I amped up even more coming out of the spur to find Amy there to lead me into the AS (9:44), a full 25 minutes faster than I'd ever been there, and on kind of poor trail conditions.  Here I'd say goodbye to dad and Dan as they were going home, and I rigged for the night and quickly changed my shirt.  Amy led me out, and I set off up the trail in pursuit of young Mr. Borst.  Very soon I came upon Kurt Decker and Ian Corless shooting photos.  I shouted, "Kurt, do you smell that?" "Smell what?," he responded.  "Rabbit!" and on I went.  Little did I know, there wouldn't be any site of rabbit for more than 6 hours.

I felt I floated the section to Sonju, enjoying the waning sunlight and the pursuit.  Twisting through green tunnels occasionally broken by clear sky, listening to 80's rock, I hit Larry Pederson's AS (11:23).  I asked how far up Borst was and was told 10 minutes (it was 8).  Ugh, I was told 10 at Finland too (really 12).  10 minutes really seemed to be the default answer.  I grabbed some juicy watermelon and gels and headed out to see the Governor at Crosby.  He had a bet that anyone getting there during daylight would win a pound of coffee.  It'd be close, but no way that was happening today.  At Crosby, would also be Amy and mom.

I got in just after dark (12:17).  Thankfully, Patten had been running a stopwatch from when Borst left and I was now down 6 minutes.  OK, this was getting frustrating.  I'd hoped to have bagged him by now.  Gaining at a rate of 200 meters an hour was going to take a while.  Patten had some good humor for me (I'm Sexy and I Know It), and the ladies quickly had my gear set and I was back out there, and into the dark.  By now I was getting pretty tired of my music, since it's only a 5 hour long play list, but it was better than not having anything.  I was also doing this entire race without a pacer, going pure, as it were.  Actually, I have no problems using pacers, I just wanted to try it without, just like my first time here.

Getting to Sugarloaf is a grind. It's nearly 10 miles and some pretty rugged ground  It's usually a little shy of confidence flags, too.  But I knew all this.  The only unexpected thing was that I still hadn't seen Borst.  What was up with this guy, why did he have to pick today to run a smart 100.  I did not want 2nd again.  And I was frankly starting to feel like a nap was a pretty good idea.  It was getting onto 10 PM, my 41-year old bed time.  Finally arriving at Sugarloaf (14:47) after what would be my slowest paced section of the race (15:57), the gals and I did our thing, and I beat it out of there, now only 5 minutes down.  Or was it 10?

Working on the night shift, me and the 'Engine' worked down the short 5.6 technical miles to Cramer (16:12).  It wasn't really that hard, but the miles were taking their tole.  My legs didn't hurt, not at all, but they certainly weren't moving as fast as I'd like them too.  And remember how awesome that nap sounded, well it was even more awesome sounding now.  Fortunately, while it was chilly out, I was moving fast enough that I was totally comfortable in a t-shirt and there were times I still wished I had the singlet back on.  Finally when I got into Cramer just after midnight, I got the best surprise of the last six hours: Borst was there.  He left right away, but we did our thing, and I was right out after him, his light never out of sight.

I was soon running behind him and his pacer, Jacob.  Jacob graciously said he'd run behind us and let us duke it out.  It had taken me over 6 hours to gain 12 minutes, so we were running essentially the same race.  I could have passed Mike, but it would have been at the same slow rate.  We were both gassed.  So we essentially spent the next hour and a half running in silence with Mike leading the way.  The second half of the course had been much muddier so far than the first, with a lot of trees down as well.  We had a grand time looking at trees we had to crawl over, sighing, then lifting our legs over with our hands.  Mostly, though, we danced around the mud, and made our way through the darkness, broken now and then by the bright moon.

The Engine Takes Over


About 10 minutes from Temperence, though, I started feeling my energy rapidly climb upwards.  I was waking up and the legs were getting charged.  I started talking to Mike and he let me know he was falling asleep on his feet.  With about a tenth of a mile to Temperence, he pulled off to go to the bathroom and I bolted.  It was all downhill and I strode out, finally in the lead after 85 miles.  17:56 into the day mom and Amy did a really rapid change of gear and I was rushing off just as Mike came in.  I wanted to get out of his sight, so he couldn't see me at all, hoping it might demoralize him.

I knew this next section really well.  It was the climb up Carlton peak then down into Sawbill.  I hammered this, riding my new-found energy for all it was worth.  Despite the technical climbing and gobs of mud, I managed a 12:16 pace for these 5.5 miles.  I also ended up saying hell with it with the mud and just running through it.  My feet were wet and dirty anyway and I was probably risking a fall trying to dance around it.  Getting to the base of the cliffs was a treat, because I knew it wasn't long to the penultimate AS.  The moon kept setting me off when I'd see it out of the corner of my eye, thinking it was a headlamp, but it was just me, alone in the night.  I strode into Sawbill 19:06 in (3:06 AM).  I was hurried, but laser focused.  The aid station didn't exist, just the trail.  Amy took me to the trail-head and I asked her to wait 10 minutes, so at Oberg they could tell me the gap.

Sawbill to Oberg is normally pretty fast, with a lot of smooth single track.  This year it was deep mud.  I didn't care, I'd given myself completely over to the running.  My legs were pumping like pistons and I went right through all the mud without a care.  It was still pitch black out and the stars were incredible.  Soon enough I was heading down the final hill before the goodly chunk of flat into the aid station.  Oberg has been run by TCRC's Kurt Decker and manned by my TCRC teammates for the last several years and almost as soon as I hit the flats, there was Kurt, headlamp on, to run me in.  That was pretty sweet, he told me that I had over a half hour lead on Borst, and I felt some relief wash over me.  We were both excited about what was looking like a win.  We talked away until we came up to the RV (20:20), 1:14 after leaving Sawbill.  Amy and mom quickly had me on my way.

Kurt ran me up to the trail-head, with Orion shining straight up above us.  He wished me luck, and I was on my own again.  It always gets to me how long this section feels, winding around many times until you begin the first big climb.  I ran what I could, but I could tell that I was really running low on energy.  At least all I had to do was keep moving.  As usual it was climb, run the ridgeline, steep decent to the saddle (which is much longer than you'd think) then finally the switchbacks on up.  Once at the top of the switchbacks, there was immense relief, I knew it was almost over.  A little bit of flat running, then the group campsite.  Hell yeah, so close.  A little farther then the roar of the falls on the Poplar became audible over the music blaring on my iPod.  I looked at my watch, if I could hit the road in 5 minutes I had a shot at sub 22!  I hit the road in 7.  Fortunately it was shorter than I allowed for.  Quickly hauling down the road by myself, I allowed a few private fist pumps and cheers.

I made the turn down to Caribou Lodge to find Jarrow standing there cheering.  Around the pool one more time...the line.  Done in 21:58:32!  A huge smile, a big whoop, and a big hug from Amy.  There was nothing like it.  A win always feels good.  A win on home turf even better.  To finally nail this race, running it almost perfectly, not getting first easily, but having to fight for it, made it all the sweeter.

At last, a chair.  I hadn't sat once all day, not having so much as taken a shoe off to shake it out.  Relief.


  • Nathan v-pack
  • 2 x 20 oz water bottles
  • Injinji sox
  • Hoka Mafate Speeds
  • s-caps
  • Always carried 6 gels out of aid stations


  1. Congrats again. Great write up. Enjoy some R&R.

  2. Great write up General.

    Just for the record, at Crosby you were 2:45 behind Borst. I showed you the timer and you said "get that out of my face". (I guess you and Maas don't like timers shoved in your face)

    We were cheering hard for once you left.

    Makes me want to get in top shape again.

    Your family was fun to chat with at aid stations.

  3. Great race report! That was fun to read. It conveyed a lot of the excitement and drama.
    Congratulations on a big win!

  4. Right you are Matt. My biggest problem was that I just couldn't focus on your phone. I could see it, but couldn't comprehend what was on it. Don't know how I made it down the trail. I guess being sexy helps.

    Amy and my mom enjoyed hanging with you too.